January Offers from Swiss Railways

The Snow’n’Rail scheme from Swiss Railways provides a 20% discount on the combined public transport and lift passes for a whole host of resorts in Switzerland. Additionally there are often even better offers available, and January sees some really brilliant ones.
Ski Airolo
Airolo is a pretty little village, famous as the home resort of Lara Gut, with enough slopes to keep most skiers and snowboarders happy for a day trip. They will be particularly happy with the massive 50% discount offered in January. You can get to Airolo from many locations, including Basel and Zurich, without changing trains – and there are not many resorts you can say that of. Plus it is the largest Italian-speaking resort in Switzerland.

If you do take the train to Airolo you can either take the courtesy bus from the station or walk to the bottom station – head left out of the station.

Other noteworthy deals are the 30% discount for Distentis (here), a favourite for freeriders, Meiringen-Hasliberg (here), convenient for Basel and Berne, Sattel (here), convenient for Zug and Lucerne, and Braunwald (here), a direct train trip from Zurich.

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Most people who go to Adelboden for a day trip head, understandably, for the main area stretching between Adelboden and Lenk. It is a surprise Adelboden is not better known outside of Switzerland even on the strength of this one area, especially as the resort holds an FIS World Cup Slalom race and was the very first winter package tour destination in the world. What I also like about Adelboden is that, much like Davos-Klosters, you have several independent mountains to choose from. Two of these require a bus from Adelboden but fortunately there is a convenient and busy bus station in the middle of the village, one is best reached from Frütigen and one is only reachable from Lenk. And one is right in the middle of Adelboden, just up from the Tourist Information Office, Tschentenalp.

Linked gondolas servicing Tschentenalp
Linked gondolas servicing Tschentenalp

Tschentenalp is a delightful little area, reached by gondola and serviced by a chairlift, a t-bar and a pull for the nursery slope. It has got a good restaurant, there is tubing, tobogganing, winter walks, plenty of off-piste and around a dozen variations of piste and trail to get around the area. The yellow run back into Adelboden is pretty straightforward, certainly compared to some of the valley trails I have come across, although it is not for beginners or nervous intermediates.

OK, you wouldn’t probably come here for a whole day if you were looking to get in plenty of mileage, but I liked the runs and the off-piste was easily accessible and the overall ambiance was good. You can always tag it onto a day on the main slopes or visit it as an alternative if the weather conditions are better.

All equipment catered for…

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For Gstaad read Zweisimmen

Gstaad has that ring of opulence about it, although in truth it is a sleepy town where I have had to wait for the cows to cross the road whilst driving through it. Zweisimmen doesn’t have the same cachet, but for me it gives you access to the very best slopes in the Gstadd Mountain Rides.Gstaad Mountain Rides comprises 6 sectors for pricing purposes and 10 distinct ski areas. Although Glacier 3000 is included in the pass it really is geographically closer to Les Diablerets, whilst the rest of the runs are mostly below 2000m. Getting around these runs in the Simmental and Saanenland is a doddle with a train running from Zweisimmen across the Röstigraben to Châteax D’Oex connecting most of the areas up, and the train is included in the lift pass.
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However the largest ski area is best accessed from Zweisimmen, reached easily by a train from Berne on the BLS service. A useful feature of the service is that, if you have a Snow’n’Rail combined train and lift pass, somebody comes round the train at weekends to trade in your lift voucher for a lift pass. That means you can get straight off the train, walk the 200 yards to the gondola and go straight up to the slopes. How’s that for service!

I had been thinking of going to Lauchernalp above the Lötschental, where this time of year the local carnival is celebrated with people dressed as the fearsome Tschäggättä, even on the slopes. However it is a high resort and it promised to be a cold day, so I opted for the lower runs above Zweisimmen. Even though the runs are low, however, I’ve always found the snow holds well here, with shaded tree-clad slopes and sheltered off-piste.

The snow was excellent after an indifferent January in the Alps. No bare patches and lots of new snow, with powder off-piste. New snow overnight meant that the extensive off-piste here was untracked. There is quite a lot of gentle off-piste around. There’s some on the Rinderberg and above St Stephan, and stuff around Hornberg, but both sides of the valley above Chaltebrunne have wonderful areas that are great fun to explore in new snow. I am always surprised there are not more boarders here, since nearly all the runs are served by gondolas and chairlifts, there are no real flat areas, there’s a park and there is so much easy, lift-served off-piste.
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Anyway, all round a good gig. One of my favourite resorts, especially for mid-winter.

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March Ski conditions in Gstaad

It is the middle of March and, after an unseasonably warm couple of weeks, many people are already predicting the end of the winter sports season. Not true! Many friends have told me about the excellent cross-country and ski touring, and my own experience on the pistes certainly suggests this season is far from over.

I visited Gstaad Mountain Rides this last weekend, and the conditions were fabulous on-piste. Off-piste was crusty, but these are slopes that are generally between 1000m and 2000m, so it is probably not reasonable to expect too much of them in mid-March. However, in general, there was good snow cover and some fabulous runs on the pistes. The only areas to show significant wear and tear were the steeper black runs, of which there are few in this area, and the valley runs to Gstaad and St Stephan. Remarkably, under-threat Rellerli still seems to be in good nick, and the runs down to Saanen off Eggli were near-perfect.

I have to declare a love affair with Gstaad and its pistes. There are nine unconnected areas in six sectors which make up the Mountain Rides lift pass area, and the public transport that joins everything up is infrequent. However the trains and buses are reliable so if you carry a timetable with you, you need never find yourself hanging around. In addition, there are really only three significant areas – although the others are worth a detour if you have the opportunity – and two of those are in the same designated sector. Added to that, all public transport is free if you have a lift pass.

The senery is stunning, and the area has a fairly high standard in mountain restaurant cuisine. There are no lift queues to speak of, even at busy times, and the lifts are generally modern or scheduled to be updated.

But what really makes this area so enjoyable for me is the mile after mile of wide, easy pistes. There are no flat spots to speak of, and largely avoidable surface lifts. This really is an intermediate paradise, particularly for boarders.

It is also easy to get to from Berne or Basel. Zweisimmen is the gateway to the region, and far more easy to get to by train than car. Most riders would be happy to spend a day on the large area accessible from the gondola station next to the station at Zweisimmen, but trains connect to Lenk and the Adelboden pistes, and the pistes across at Saanen and Rougemont so it is feasible to take in atl east a couple of areas in one day.

Iv’e posted pictures on the relevant resort pages at http://www.swisswintersports.co.uk and at my flickr site here. Check them out.


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